CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CODART ACHT Study trip: background information

Background information

When Hans Nieuwdorp held his historic exhibition of 15th- and 16th-century Antwerp composite altarpieces (retabels) in Antwerp Cathedral in 1993, he compiled a checklist of the examples he had located in the course of 25 years of research on the subject. Perhaps not so surprisingly, in view of the extent of iconoclasm in Belgium, the country of origin of the altarpieces came only third among countries preserving these astonishing objects. In first place was Germany, but in second place, and this is something of a surprise, stood Sweden, with 26 examples. Before the (early) adoption of Protestantism, a constant stream of orders went from churches all over Sweden to the Antwerp dealers who coordinated the production of these highly complex creations of carpenters, sculptors, painters and gilders, each organized in a different guild. As purchasers on this scale, Swedish churches can be said to have been a major partner in the Antwerp art world in the decades around 1500. The survival of so many altarpieces in Sweden, as compared to, for example, the Netherlands can be credited to the fact that Lutheranism became the state religion of Sweden in 1527, which it remained until the year 2000. Thanks to the relatively relaxed attitude of the Lutherans to art in churches, the country was spared the devastations of iconoclasm. Magnificent examples in a variety of modes will be seen on the study trip in the cathedrals of StrÀngnÀs, VÀsterÄs and Uppsala, and in the Historic Museum in Stockholm.

As in other areas of Northern Europe, many of the architects and sculptors – not to mention engineers and town planners – who gave form to noble, governmental, ecclesiastical, educational and (primarly) military buildings and installations in Sweden in the early modern period came from the Netherlands. An entire colony of Dutch professionals, craftsmen, small businessmen and shopkeepers was brought to Göteborg, where they built two successive cities, the first of which was destroyed by the Danes in 1611. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries colonies of this kind were established in various Swedish cities. The one in Stockholm was concentrated in Södermalm, the island south of Gamla Stan, the old town. Speaking Dutch and practicing Calvinism, they formed communities of their own. Some survived well into the 18th century, interacting on all levels, including the arts, with local society.

The foremost artist in this wave of imported Netherlanders was the Flemish architect and sculptor Willem Boy (ca. 1520-92), who in 1558 was brought from Mechelen to Sweden by King Gustav Vasa (King Gustav I; 1496-1560; reigned 1523-60). Works by Boy to be seen on the trip include the churches of St. Jacob and St. Klara in Stockholm, the funeral monument of Gustav Vasa in Uppsala Cathedral, and the beautiful, moving tomb of the two-year-old Princess Isabella (1564-66) in StrÀngnÀs Cathedral.

The royal gardens of Sweden were designed and maintained in the 16th century by the Netherlandish garden architect Hans Friese. Kings Gustav Vasa and his sons Erik XIV (1533-77; reigned 1560-68) and Johan III (1537-92; reigned 1568-92) had him in service for some 40 years, during which he laid out the gardens at the palaces of Gripsholm, Svartsjö, Linköping, Uppsala and the KungstrÀdgÄrden in Stockholm. This precedent was picked up in the following century when Hedvig Eleonora (1636-1715), the widow of King Karl X Gustav (1622-60; reigned 1654-60), brought the Dutch gardener Christiaan Horleman to Sweden. After his death his function was inherited by his son Johan and grandson Carl, who, after Johan was knighted by King Karl XII, changed the family name to HÄrleman. Thanks to the ties of these men with Dutch colleagues and plant nurseries, the actual flora used in Swedish royal gardens overlapped that of the Netherlands for a century and a half.

In the 17th century the main motor for Swedish-Netherlandish artistic relations was provided by the military-industrial complex of the time, epitomized by the Flemish-Dutch merchant Louis De Geer (1587-1652). De Geer was born in the prince-bishopric of Luik (LiĂšge) into a pious Protestant family that moved to Dordrecht, perhaps for religious reasons, in 1596. With his brother-in-law Elias Trip (1570-1636), he built a financial empire in the Netherlands and Sweden, based on mining and weapons manufacture. In exchange for minerals, mines and valuable contracts and licenses, the two helped fund the wars of the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf (1594-1632; reigned 1611-32), in the process acquiring houses and estates in and outside Stockholm. De Geer became Lord of Österby and FinspĂ„ng, mining districts in Uppland, north of the city. At his houses he installed paintings by Dutch artists, family portraits and views of his Swedish holdings. Paintings of Sweden were hung in his Amsterdam home, the ‘House with the Heads’ at Keizersgracht 123, and in that of the sons of Elias Trip, the Trippenhuis (see CODART ZES). Artists of the caliber of Bartholomeus van der Helst and Allaert van Everdingen were commissioned by the Trips and De Geers, reinforcing the already strong ties in painting between the Netherlands and Sweden. The close resemblance of De Geer’s house in Södermalm, Stockholm, to the Mauritshuis in The Hague, although it may be fortuitous, invites one to speculate on the parallels between the expansive careers of Louis De Geer and Johan Maurits van Nassau. Both were immigrants to the Netherlands who rose to leading positions in their respective worlds, especially outside the country and especially in military contexts.

The import of architectural and artistic talent from the Netherlands became part of the regular trade activities of the De Geers and Trips, especially in the following generations. Conversely, the Swedish government maintained an agent in the Netherlands, Peter Trotzig, who joined cultural entrepreneurship to his more commercial duties. Via these channels, Justus Vingboons (1620/21-98), the younger brother of the famous Dutch architect Philips Vingboons, seems to have gotten Swedish commissions in Amsterdam and Dutch ones in Stockholm. In 1653 Trotzig brought Justus to Stockholm to complete the Riddarhuset (House of the Nobility), begun by Simon de la VallĂ©e. Koen Ottenheym considers the drawings Justus made for the project to be derived from Philips’ rejected proposal for the Amsterdam town hall. Following the completion of his three-year contract in Stockholm, Justus returned to Amsterdam to build the Trippenhuis for the sons of Elias Trip, Louys and Hendrik, who he is likely to have met in Sweden. The Riddarhuset was the most conspicuous project of its time and it served as a model for representative Swedish architecture for a century to come. In other respects as well, Dutch attainments in the arts, sciences and education served as a model for Sweden in the 17th century. A prominent manifestation of this phenomenon was reached under Queen Christina (1626-89; reigned 1632-54), when the Dutch scholars Isaac Vossius and Nicolaas Heinsius served as royal advisors.

A lasting record of the architectural fruits of this long period of Dutch-Swedish cooperation is the album Suecia antiqua et hodierna (Sweden then and now; published in 1715), a proud compilation of 350 engravings of the main country houses, city palaces and towns of the kingdom. Not only were many of the houses in the book built by Netherlandish architects, the book itself was filled largely by Dutch draftsmen and engravers. As in the case of Poland (CODART ZEVEN) and Denmark (undoubtedly a CODART theme to be), the national image of Sweden was given form in the 17th century both on the ground and in iconographic representation by craftsmen, designers and artists from the Netherlands. That many of the same individuals also fulfilled similar functions in the Netherlands itself, in the service of town regents and the House of Orange, is characteristic for a period when the nationalities of Europe were still in statu nascendi.

Swedish military expeditions of the 17th century, when successful, never failed to come home without some looted art. Undoubtedly the highpoint, one of the most successful art raids in history, was the seizure in 1648 in Prague of some 600 items collected by Emperor Rudolf II. The raid was committed just a day or two before the signing in OsnabrĂŒck of the peace treaty that would have made the act illegal. Among the booty were major paintings by Netherlandish masters such as Jan van Hemessen and Jan Massys. Bronze sculptures by Adriaen de Vries were taken from the gardens of the Wallenstein Palace and were placed in Drottningholm at the end of the 17th century, where they still stand today.

Although Queen Christina was the most dedicated art collector among the Swedish monarchs, few of her possessions have remained in the country, and few of those were from the Netherlands. Half the collection of 16th-century Netherlandish paintings in the Nationalmuseum, some 30 paintings, came to Christina’s collection from Prague as booty. Included amongst them are all the important paintings by the aforementioned Beuckelaer, Hemessen and Jan Massys. Just two or three of the paintings have an older Swedish provenance, form the collection of Gustav Vasa.

Participants in the CODART ACHT congress will have an opportunity to admire a choice of masterpieces from Christina’s drawing collection in the Teyler Museum. After her abdication and departure for Rome the collection was sold in parcels over the course of the centuries. In the late 18th century Pieter Teyler was able to buy part of the collection from the Odescalchi family.

Several late 17th- and 18th-century monarchs of Sweden collected art for the nation in a less violent fashion. The provenance of some of the best Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Nationalmuseum are found on the inventories of King Fredrik I (1676-1751; reigned 1720-51) in 1749, in 1760 of Queen Lovisa Ulrika (1720-82), in 1771 of her consort Adolf Fredrik (1710-71; reigned 1751-71), in 1792 of King Gustav III (1746-92; reigned 1771-92) and in 1804 and 1816 of the Kungliga Museum (Royal Museum).

Of even greater importance in the 18th century than the rulers was the courtier who advised them in their purchases (or sold to them) and who built outstanding collections of his own, Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770). The only son of the palace architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, Carl Gustaf was the most brilliant Swedish cultural personality of the 18th century. He began buying art for the crown in Paris in 1728 and again in 1739-42, when he was ambassador there. In 1747 he became prime minister. ‘Ruined, however, by the costs of collecting and of maintaining the luxurious lifestyle of a great nobleman, he was forced to sell off much of his collection and many of his most important works were ceded to the Swedish royal family
. After his death [the rest of his collection] was sold at two auctions
. At the first auction Gustav III bought many of the works and they became public property when the royal museum was created in 1794. This became the Nationalmuseum in 1860.’ (The dictionary of art)

That museum, the country’s main repository of Dutch and Flemish paintings and drawings, is the host museum for the CODART ACHT study trip. The second most important museum collection in Sweden, Göteborgs Konstmuseum, with important paintings by Rubens, Jordaens, Snyders and Terbrugghen among others, cannot be visited on account of the distance. Among the many other attractive destinations that we are obliged to omit for the same reason are the Cathedral of Linköping, with its world-famous triptych of the Crucifixion by Maerten van Heemskerck (a full-size reproduction can be seen in the Grote Sint Laurenskerk in Alkmaar by participants in the CODART ACHT congress excursion to Noord-Holland); and Leufsta Bruk and FinspĂ„ng, country houses built by the de Geers in the 17th century as headquarters for their mining and manufacturing operations south and north of Stockholm.

Among the sources for the above is a book published in 2002 by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Stockholm: Badeloch Noldus, Palats och herrgÄrdar: NederlÀndsk arkitektur i Sverige | Stadspaleizen en buitenplaatsen: Nederlandse bouwkunst in Zweden. ISBN 91-974145-6-5.